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Tuesday January 31st, 2023

Sacked Sri Lanka scientist says organic push needs evidence-based path

FARMING: A paddy farmer preparing a field on May 10 amid a curfews. Agriculture is expected to be almost normal.

ECONOMYNEXT – A top Sri Lanka agricultural scientist who was sacked for publicly raising concerns over a sudden agro-chemical ban said a change of course is needed to avoid a worsening crisis in agriculture which could undermine food security.

Professor Buddhi Marambe, 59, the top advisor on agriculture, was sacked from all his government positions after his criticism of the ban, the Agricultural ministry said in a statement on Tuesday (26).

“We have spoken based on science. Without going for evidence-based decisions, nothing will go right,” Marambe, who is also a senior professor at the agricultural faculty of the University of Peradeniya, told Economy Next on Wednesday.

“Their push is on the correct path. But modality they have planned could lead to a situation where you can’t think of a recovery,” he said, referring to the government’s overnight ban on chemical fertilizers.

He headed the advisory committee to formulate the national agricultural policy, which has been already submitted to the government.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in April banned all the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weedicides when the entire country was not ready to adapt only organic agriculture.

The administration has said chemicals were triggering non-communicable disease including kidney disease and the move would to save around 200 million dollars spent on imports.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Association, an influential group in policy in recent years, has said that according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, ancient Sri Lankans lived for 140 years, when there were no agro-chemicals.

However, as farmers protests grew and scientists warned of a looming disaster, the government has relaxed a part of the fertilizer ban.

Some rural farmers have already decided not to cultivate Sri Lanka staple rice in the ongoing ‘Maha’ cultivation season because of the government failure to provide necessary fertilizers.

Marambe, a former Dean of Agriculture Faculty at University of Peradeniya had been warning in recent newspaper articles that an overnight shift to organic fertiliser could lead to crop declines that in turn cause huge food shortages within months.

He cautioned that a crop failure would force the government to import food at a time when money printing has created a forex shortage.

In an article titled “A tragedy of relying on misinformation”, he said Sri Lanka is likely to import a major portion of basic food needs, such as rice, adding to external woes and reducing domestic generation of value.

“If I don’t speak out, I will also be responsible for the decline in agriculture in the future,” Marambe said

“They need to correct the course immediately. Do not forget, food security is national security. We should never tolerate any action that negatively affects our food security.”

Sri Lanka in 2005 started subsidizing fertilizer as a vote-buying gimmick promoting over-use and blocking farmers from moving on to modern more efficient nutrient application and the use of micro-nutrients.

Agriculture officials have pointed out that fertilizer themselves are not poisonous but quality has to be controlled to make sure there are no contaminants and pesticide use is globally governed by standards on residues which are revised based on available evidence.

Sri Lanka has seen a gradual decline in evidenced based policy making, where, green papers, white papers, expert consultation and public consultation had been replaced by ‘policy-by-manifesto’ and special interests which are enforced by midnight gazette, critics have said. (COLOMBO, October 27, 2021)

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Sri Lanka shares down for 2nd day as tax hike, delay in Chinese debt assurance weigh

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged down on Tuesday as worries over delay in financial assurances from China which is mandatory for a $2.9 billion dollar IMF loan and rise in protests against tax hike kept investors in check, analysts said.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) edged down by 0.28 percent or 24.62 points to 8,865.05. It fell for the second session after hitting more than three-month high.

“The market is looking for more macro cues because of faster Chinese debt assurance was expected. The market is also hit by fall in corporate earnings due to high taxes,” an analyst said.

China has given an initial response on debt re-structuring to Sri Lanka though analysts familiar with the process say it is not a ‘hard assurance’ sufficient for the IMF program to go through.

The International Monetary Fund is working with China on extending maturities of Chinese loans to defaulted countries like Sri Lanka, as there is resistance to hair-cuts, Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told reporters on January 14.
The earnings for first quarter are expected to be negative for many corporates with higher taxes and rising costs. However, investors had not expected earnings to be low in the December quarter because of year end pick ups on heavy counters, the analyst said.
Earnings in the second quarter of 2023 are expected to be more positive with the anticipation of IMF loan and possible reduction in the market interest rates as the tax revenue has started to generate funds.

However, the central bank said the IMF deal is likely in the first quarter or in the first month of the second quarter.

The most liquid index S&P SL20 dropped by 0.64 percent or 17.74 points to 2,764.51 points.

The central bank has said it could cut interest rates in future when the country sees fall in inflation, which has already started decelerating.

The market saw a turnover of 1.7 billion rupees, slightly lower than the month’s daily average of 1.8 billion rupees and while being significantly lower than 2022’s daily average turnover of 2.9 billion rupees.

The bourse saw a net foreign inflow (NFI) of 93 million rupees extending the net offshore buying to 413 million rupees so far this year.

Top losers were LOLC, Royal Ceramics Limited and Hayleys. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka exports fall in December as global recession weighs

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s merchandise exports earnings fell 9.7 percent in December year-on-year as the island nation saw a drop in buying from its key export destinations which are facing a looming recession after the Russia-Ukraine war.

The earnings from the merchandise exports recorded $1.04 billion  in December 2022 compared to the same month in the previous year as per the data released by the Sri Lanka Customs.

“This was mainly due to the decrease in export earnings from Apparel & Textiles, Tea, Rubber based Products, and Coconut based Products, Food & Beverages, Spices & Essential Oils and Fisheries products,” the Export Development Board (EDB) said in a statement.

“The reason for this decline was due to the ongoing recession in major markets due to rising cost of production, energy etc. Imports declined sharply due to inflation and demand for goods and services are reduced.”

However, Sri Lanka saw a record export earning of $13.1 billion in 2022 due to increased demand in the key exports throughout the year

Earnings from all major product sectors except Electrical & Electronic components as well as Diamonds, Gems & Jewellery fell in December.

Exports of Apparel & Textiles decreased by 9.6 percent to $480.3 million in December 2022.  Export earnings from Tea fell by 3 percent to $107.3 million, Rubber and Rubber Finished products dropped 20.3 percent to $74.5 million,

However, export earnings from the Electrical & Electronics Components increased by 16.18 percent to $42.9 million in December 2022, while Diamond, Gems & Jewelry jumped 35.7 percent to $30.8 million. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka records over 6,000 dengue cases in first three weeks of January

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka recorded over than 6,000 dengue cases in the first three weeks of January 2023 after a spell of heavy monsoon rain though a drop in cases is likely from February, officials said.

Health officials identified 6,204 dengue patients by January 22, up from 5,793 recorded in the corresponding period last year.

“A rise in cases can be observed in the November-January period with the heavy rain due to the northeast monsoon,” an official from the National Dengue Control Unit told EconomyNext.

Of all reported cases, 46.3 percent were from the Western Province, official reports showed.

Akuressa, Batticaloa, Eravur, Trincomalee, Madampe, Badulla, Eheliyagoda, Kegalle, Kalmunai North and Alayadivembu MOH areas were identified as high-risk areas for dengue during the third week of January by the health officials.

“We are expecting a decline in dengue cases soon. The Western province is always in the top position with the highest number of dengue cases. Apart from that, we are seeing a higher number of cases during this period in areas like Puttalam, Jaffna districts. A certain number of cases have also been recorded in the Kandy district,” the official said.

“Usually the cases peak in December, but they decline by February. This year, too, we are facing this scenario. There is an increase of dengue during the months of November, December and January”.

Due to the economic situation in the country, the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) in an earlier report said, diesel and pesticides are not being provided by the ministry.

However, rejecting the allegation, the official from the NDCU said the government has provided enough funds for get the necessary pesticides but it is being used according to a scientific method to avoid building a resistance in the dengue mosquito.

“The recommendation is to do the fogging if there is a dengue outbreak or if there are few patients reported from the same locality.

“If you use this pesticide haphazardly, the mosquitos will develop resistance against it,” the official said, adding that there are adequate stocks of the chemical available. (Colombo/ Jan 31/2023)

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